Susan Redden Makatoa is what her daughter likes to call a “boss lady”. She’s a managing director at Ogilvy Public Relations, the chair of Executive Women Australia, and a woman who wants to see more “boss ladies” in the future.
But having also been someone who — before having four children of her own — often made assumptions about those who worked from home, part-time, or couldn’t travel because of out-of-work commitments, she also believes we need to adjust our thinking on who should and shouldn’t be working flexibly.
In a a TEDx talk at Macquarie University recently, Redden Makatoa shared why she believes workplace flexibility should be seriously extended to everyone. For as long as it continues to be something “working mothers” do, other people — like she once did — will continue to secretly despite the women who access it.
“I’m here to say, ‘let’s stop making special treatment for working mothers … Let’s extend flexibility so it’s working for everybody’,” said Makatoa. “We now have workplace flexibility built into our law. So, if you have a little one at home you can go to work and you can ask for job sharing, flexible work hours or telecommuting. What’s interesting about that is that it’s women who are taking that up. We’ve got 43% of mums working part-time, but just 4% of the fellas are doing the same,” she said.
Redden Makatoa also shared the story of a colleague who recently returned from maternity leave. Packing up her back to leave one afternoon, she turned to a colleague and said, “I’ve become one of those people I used to hate. I leave the office at ten to five.”
While Makatoa hoped she was joking, she too remembers thinking not-nice things about those who had to shoot out the door at a particular time. “When I was young and single, I used to roll my eyes because my colleagues couldn’t travel because they had kids,” she said, adding that she often wondered why a senior manager in her then workplace would “bother” working three days a week (that manager went on to become one of the country’s most senior public servants)
“I know some people who could really do with this,” Makatoa said about flexibility. “One amazing guy I know spends his christmas holidays building medical facilities in PNG. Another lady I work with spends her downtime caring for her mother with dementia and raises money for cancer.
“The thing about flexibility is that if you extend it to let everyone have a fair go, you’re actually going to end up with something really important. And that’s happy employees.”
Check out Makatoa’s full TEDx talk, as well as other regular contributors to Women’s Agenda including Catriona Pollard, speaking at Macquarie University here.